U.S. congressman urges health secretary to visit Taiwan - Focus Taiwan

U.S. congressman urges health secretary to visit Taiwan

Washington, March 8 (CNA) U.S. Representative Ted Yoho has urged U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar to attend the upcoming Global Cooperation and Training Framework (GCTF) meeting, to be held jointly in Taipei by Taiwan and the U.S. from April 30 to May 3, according to a letter Yoho penned.

If U.S. health secretary Azar comes to Taiwan for the upcoming conference, he will be the highest ranking U.S. official to visit the Republic of China since 2014, and Beijing will likely strongly oppose the visit.

"I urge you to attend this important event," Yoho -- the Ranking Member of U.S. House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation -- wrote on Friday to Azar.

Yoho said the GCTF will bring together officials and experts to combat diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Dengue fever and Zika virus.

He highlighted Taiwan's contributions to global health over the years, despite it being kept out of the World Health Organization (WHO) due to China's objections.

"We must not undervalue Taiwan's financial and technical contributions to global health initiatives," Yoho said, adding that Taiwan has invested over US$6 billion in international medical and humanitarian aid efforts impacting over 80 countries since 1996.

"In 2014, Taiwan responded to the Ebola crisis by donating US$1 million and providing 100,000 sets of personal protective equipment," Yoho said.

He also asked Azar's help in advocating for Taiwan's inclusion in the 2019 World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting. The WHA is the governing body of the WHO.

Despite its efforts, Yoho said, "Taiwan has been continually excluded from participation in international bodies that address global health initiatives, particularly in the World Health Organization, at the behest of China."

In response to this "unnecessary exclusion," Yoho said he has introduced the bill H.R.353 to direct the U.S. Secretary of State to develop a strategy to regain observer status for Taiwan in the WHO. The legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 22, Yoho said.

"Diseases know no borders, and Taiwan's needless exclusion from global health cooperation increases the dangers presented by global pandemics," Yoho emphasized.

China claims Taiwan as its province and objects to official relations between Washington and Taipei and the treatment of Taiwan as a country, including U.S. Cabinet level officials visiting the island.

Prior to the American Institute in Taiwan opening its new office in Taipei last June, it was reported that China strongly opposed suggestions that Washington send a Cabinet level official to attend the ceremony, arguing that doing so would violate the "one-China principle" under which Beijing defines Taiwan and mainland China as a part of one China.

The U.S. sent U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce instead of a higher ranking official.

The Formosan Association for Public Affairs, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization aimed at strengthening the U.S.-Taiwan relationship, said on Friday that Azar traveling to Taipei is "only a next logical step" as stipulated by the U.S. Taiwan Travel Act passed by the U.S. legislature in March last year, lifting all restrictions on high-level visits to and from Taiwan.

The Act is aimed at promoting exchanges between high level U.S. and Taiwanese officials.

Due to the lack of official diplomatic ties between Taipei and Washington and Beijing's objections, other than transit stops, Taiwan's presidents do not visit the U.S., neither do its Cabinet officials. Visits by high ranking U.S. officials to Taiwan are also rare.

In 2014, then U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy became the first Cabinet-level U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 14 years.

(By Chiang Chin-yeh and Chi Jo-yao)


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